5 Kickass… Chicago Bookstores

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I remember standing in line at the Borders on Harlem and Irving Park Road in Norridge just after the company announced it was planning on closing roughly one-third of its Chicago locations. I stood in the checkout line and listened to patrons ask one another just where they were going to go book shopping. The suggestion of Amazon was thrown around as readers in Borders checkout lines throughout the city shuddered at the thought of buying their books online.

C’mon, people. Though there may only be three Borders left in Chicago, there are plenty of other bookstores still kickin’ it — and why not support some local business? Here are five kickass Chicago bookstores that are sure to meet your summer reading needs and offer titles, events, and amenities that Borders never could provide.

Myopic Books | myopicbookstore.com

1564 N. Milwaukee Ave.

When I walk into Myopic Books, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the three floors and over 80,000 editions of books. As I walk up and down the squeaking and warped stairs I also can’t help but wonder, “what if a fire breaks out?” I can’t even manage to stretch my arms out as I make my way down the narrow aisle of floor-to-nearly-ceiling bookshelves. It’s magical — from the large glass case of rare and collectible books to the musty smell of worn books. (Don’t you love that?)

With their “No Cell Phones” policy, you’re book-buying experience is sure to be uninterrupted and peaceful. Obviously, with 80,000 editions, their selection is substantial, ranging from cooking to fiction to literary criticism and everything in between. Even with all of their merchandise, Myopic still managed to create a comfortable seating area that allows patrons to look out a large picturesque window and onto busy Milwaukee Avenue. Located just off the Damen Blue Line, and with hours until 11:00pm, daily, Myopic Books is surely a place worth getting lost in. The store also hosts weekly “Experimental Music Mondays”, semi-weekly poetry readings, and the Wicker Park Chess Club. Check their website for more details.

Women and Children First | www.womenandchildrenfirst.com

5233 N. Clark St.

With its purple awning and large posters of book covers lining the storefront windows, it’s hard to resist the urge to stop into Women and Children First. The largest feminist bookstore in the country, Women and Children First has over 30,000 titles by and about women. If that isn’t enough, this independent bookstore even offers a selection of e-books! There’s a large collection of stationery products and more feminist gifts, like tampon cases.

There’s a bookshelf with note-card size reviews taped underneath a variety of titles, from Jennifer Egan’s recent Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, to the older short-story collection of Dorothy Allison’s, Trash. These staff reviews carry themselves throughout the store and are in front of a variety of titles. Though Women and Children First specializes in feminist material, the store also features books you’d find in a non-specialty bookstore. I’d have to say, out of all their specialty material, the two genre sections that I found most unique, were their zine collection and their section of lesbian-themed mystery paperbacks. The store also hosts many author events and book discussion groups.

Quimby’s | www.quimbys.com

1854 W. North Ave.

Around the corner and up the street from Myopic, Quimby’s specializes in everything small-press and independent, specifically self-published distributed and produced zines. There are multi-media collages hanging from the walls and a photo booth near the back wall that has a basket of props — bunny ears, a plastic fish for anyone who’s willing to pay to snap some pictures.

One wall is lined with graphic novels from Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tome and, if you turn around towards the opposite corner, stapled, self-published comics from local zinsters and artists you’ve never heard of. There’s XXX sex culture comixx, tattoo books, Chicago crime books like Family Secrets by Jeff Coen, Found Magazine, and material you can’t get anywhere else.  My favorite section at Quimby’s has to be their wide selection of literary magazines. Unlike at Borders, you won’t find only Tin House or The New Yorker. If you’re unfamiliar with zines or small-press material, the staff is knowledgeable and quick to recommend material. Quimby’s even posts a weekly top 10 list, available online and at the store.

Half Price Books and Records | www.hpb.com

5605 W. Touhy Ave. Niles, IL

What Half Price Books and Records lacks in atmosphere, they make up for in price. There’s no wine or coffee and the only sitting area is a handful of leather chairs located in the back of the store near the clearance section. Unlike the other four stores on the list, Half Price is not an independent bookstore. They’re located throughout sixteen states, which allows them to offer coupons and sales similar to Borders. This past Black Friday, their entire store was 50 percent off and the first 100 customers received a reusable tote bag and $5 gift card and, at random, one patron from each store was awarded a $100 gift card.

While the store is, technically, a chain, the staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. On Black Friday they even came out before the store opened and offered everyone in line free Dunkin Donuts coffee and Munchkins. Unlike Myopic Books, Half Price sells romance and mystery trade paperbacks. They also take anything you bring in to sell and don’t have specific days or times when they’ll buy you’re used books or media items. Whether it’s finding Mary Karr’s newest memoir, Lit, for $2, Season One of Friends, or a $1.98 back issue of the defunct Kitchen Sink magazine, Half Price’s selection never upsets.

The Book Cellar | www.bookcellarinc.com

4736 N. Lincoln Ave.

The Book Cellar is split into both a bookstore and a really great cafe that serves Julius Meinl products and beer and wine. Yes, beer and wine! The store hosts local author nights and a young adult book club, among other events. The bookshelves are fully stocked, and the same book cover posters in the window of Women and Children First are propped against the tops of bookshelves throughout the store.

Also, like Women and Children First, there’s a bookcase of staff picks. The Book Cellar also carries these note-card reviews throughout the store. But they also add extra things like QR codes for e-books of certain titles and information about things that aren’t on the shelf (like a 50th anniversary addition of Naked Lunch, located behind the counter), and cartoon sketches of authors Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf to distinguish where their sections begin.

Photo Credit

Erin Nederbo

About Erin Nederbo

Erin is a current writing major at Columbia College and a native of Chicago's Jefferson Park. Surrounded by Cubbie blue, she is often hassled by friends for being a White Sox fan. During winter, she keeps warm by eating Italian beef, dreaming of 16 inch softball, and reading Sandra Cisneros. Her creative writing can be found in Hair Trigger 33 Magazine.

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